They came as masters—at least, the men. Some came in their official capacity as civil servants, architects, engineers, soldiers and as journalists for the good newspapers—The Statesman, The Times of India, the Illustrated Weekly and the BBC. Taya Zinkin, a Frenchwoman married to an ICS officer-turned-boxwallah, Maurice, wrote for the Manchester Guardian, as it was then called. Most came when young, looking for a better prospect than was on offer in Blighty.
They are all terribly nice and charming, even though there was a lot of racism during the Raj. Those who came into the civil service found their contacts with Indians restricted to professionals. The journalists had much greater freedom to sample the real India. Even so, there is a sense of the exotic or the forbidden, when they recall the names of their Indian friends. It all sounds slightly unreal from today's perspective when sahibs and memsahibs come and go and no one kowtows to them.
The journalist Philip Knightley went native, married an Indian woman and sampled ordinary life. But he came in 1960, by which time the snobbery about the sahibs had almost gone. Horace Alexander, a Quaker, came in peace and sought out the Mahatma; Arthur Hughes was somewhat of an outsider as a Welshman but became a teacher as he could easily pick up Indian languages with his knowledge of Welsh. Peggy Holroyde became a student of classical music but as an American she had the inborn knack of going native. She recalls the horrendous Kumbh Mela in the 1950s, when several were crushed to death in a stampede. She suffers the reverse racism of not being admitted to a Srirangam temple, but then also finds Bismillah Khan and D.V. Paluskar. She echoes Kipling: "My English years fell away, nor ever, I think, came back in full strength."
There is something about being a white person but not British which does bring out the best in Escott Reid, who was Canada's high commissioner to India from 1952 to 1957. He was charmed by Nehru, "his elegance, his charm as host or guest, his stream of consciousness speeches, occasionally dull, but usually illuminating and moving. I remember the way in which he revelled in the endless adventure of politics, revelled in whirling, restless, relentless activity, the activity of the creative, practical politician who conceived his task to be to prod, push, pull, cajole, lead India out of the bullock cart and cow-dung age into the age of jet airplanes and nuclear energy." Nehru also charmed Taya Zinkin who as a Frenchwoman was willing to be enchanted by India. She recalls: "In those days Pandit Nehru looked so young that, until the horrors of Partition hacked his real age into his face, I used to think he belonged to my own generation—until I met his daughter whose sons exactly sandwiched ours." Nehru would offer Taya an occasional lift when he was passing by in his car. These rides and her chats with Indira led Taya Zinkin to begin a long writing career, what she calls 'my discovery of India'.
The best of the lot is a short memoir by Mountbatten who writes of his first visit to India in 1921 along with the Prince of Wales. He met and danced with Edwina Ashley at the old Viceregal Lodge. They sat out the fifth dance, he proposed to her and then they got married. Twenty-six years later, Mountbatten found himself in the same room in the Viceregal Lodge—now the Convocation Hall of Delhi University—conferring an honorary degree on...who else but Pandit Nehru!
The finest lines in the collection belong to Rawle Knox who came first as a soldier and then as a journalist. "A little old man (told me) 'It never rains in this country, it only weeps.' And one waits until the morning to discover whether the tears are of joy or sorrow."
Khushwant Singh has solved our problem of what to give as a present on any occasion and to all sorts of friends.
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT